Straight off the bat: the 2017 Volkswagen Amarok V6 Ultimate is not the ultimate ute. Why? Because the ultimate ute would have better safety features than this vehicle.
The 2017 Volkswagen Amarok V6 Ultimate may be priced at the highest point for any standard sized dual-cab pick-up on sale in Australia at $67,990 plus on-road costs, but it lacks some of key safety items that its closest-priced rival, the $61,790 Ford Ranger Wildtrak gets standard.
If a $68,000 Volkswagen SUV came along without autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning and – heaven forbid – full-length curtain airbags, buyers would baulk at the idea. The simple fact of the matter is buyers deserve better if they’re spending this much. Yes, even ute buyers deserve value for money!
Which brings us to the main problem: apart from those omissions, the Volkswagen Amarok V6 Ultimate is good. In fact, it’s bloody excellent.
Its cabin is bloody excellent. Its engine is unfathomably good. Its compliance and comfort, not to mention its driveability, is all benchmark brilliant. The levels of refinement mean you feel like you’re actually in a near-$70K SUV. So how the hell do we give this ute a rating that is both representative of its marvellous merits and its major flaws? Read on and we’ll see if we can come to a conclusion that fits.
Let’s start with the engine, because the Amarok is the only V6 diesel offering on sale at the moment. Its 3.0-litre turbo diesel V6 outguns all-comers with 165kW of power and 550Nm of torque, and it also outshines its rivals because this is easily the most refined oil burner in the ute class right now (the previous-generation Navara with the V6 was darn good, too).
It currently only comes with an eight-speed automatic – a six-speed manual is on its way at the end of 2017 – and it is also offered purely with permanent all-wheel-drive. That means some hardcore off-roaders may rule it out as a soft option, but with a rear diff lock, off-road mode and some of the cleverest AWD electronics on the market (the standard rear-drive bias is 60 per cent, but the system can adjust it to up 80 per cent under hard acceleration or down to 40 percent for off-road work, if needed), we can assure you it is entirely capable.
The gearbox is great around town and on the highway. It shifts smoothly up and down, and anticipates what’s required of it phenomenally well in most instances. The fact you can barely hear the engine means you hardly notice the transmission doing its thing, and it does work pretty hard around town – you’ll find it swapping up to sixth gear at 50km/h in some situations.
That said, there is a touch of drivetrain hesitation from a standstill when the engine is cold, but once it’s warm it operates very well. The stop-start system, too, isn’t too intrusive.
The engine itself offers – as you’d expect! – strong pulling power and good low-rev grunt, but also excellent refinement in the way it revs. And while the original numbers are class-beating, there’s an overboost function that temporarily lifts power to 180kW and torque to 580Nm, and it truly feels like a primo SUV in these instances.
Add that to the fact we used an average of 8.9 litres per 100 kilometres over 2000km of mixed driving during the Christmas break – which is just 1.1L/100km more than the claim – and the benefits of this engine become even clearer. We’ve seen higher use over similar driving in a Mazda BT-50, Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger.
We didn’t throw the maximum amount of payload at the Amarok during our time with it, which could have something to do with our wallet-friendly fuel figure –but with minimal load on board (four adults, a dog and luggage in the tray) the engine had zero issues with the extra mass.
The fact we didn’t get a chance to exploit the Amarok Ultimate’s 864-kilogram payload meant we also missed out on seeing what it was like with that much weight over the rear axle. Still, even without weight the VW ute’s ride comfort impressed – in fact, its unladen ride is more composed and comfortable than some utes with 500kg in the tub.
The suspension deals with bumps commendably on the highway, and while it can be a touch firm on pockmarked country roads – in part due to its enormous 19-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 255/55 Continental ContiSport Contact 5 rubber – I’d literally shudder to think what an unladen HiLux would have been like on the same surfaces.
The drive experience is similar to some SUVs, and indeed it rides better than a Toyota Fortuner in every instance, including braking – the Amarok’s four-wheel disc brakes (332mm up front and 300mm at the rear) certainly pull it up nicely. But it also steers better than plenty of large SUVs, ute-based or otherwise. The response at the tiller is good despite requiring a bit of effort to maintain cornering pace, with top-notch accuracy for this type of vehicle and nice weighting as well.
That payload is a little light-on for the class: the highest-spec auto 4x4 dual-cab versions of all of its main rivals are higher, in fact:
|Volkswagen Amarok Ultimate||864kg|
|Ford Ranger Wildtrak||950kg|
|Nissan Navara ST-X||941kg|
|Mazda BT-50 GT||1082kg|
|Mitsubishi Triton Exceed||935kg|
|Holden Colorado Z71||1007kg|
|Toyota HiLux SR5||925kg|
|Isuzu D-Max LS-U||1010kg|
The Amarok’s tray, though, is the biggest in the class, spanning 1555 millimetres long, 1620mm wide (and a pallet-friendly 1222mm between the arches), while the depth of the tub is 508mm. This spec gets a spray-on tub liner to protect the paint, and it proved hardy enough to cope with heavy plastics and the like during our time with the vehicle.
Just be aware that shorter people may struggle to get things in and out of the tray, given its height from the ground (780mm), but there’s a very good step on the rear bumper to haul yourself up into the tub if you need.
The tray has four floor-mounted tie-down points, but there are no high-mount hooks on the side of the tray. There’s a 12-volt outlet in the tub (along with three in the cabin: one in the rear row, two in the front), and the big chrome sports bar houses a tray light, but it wasn’t working on our ute.
And something that may not work for all buyers is the towing capacity: despite the fact this thing has the burliest engine in the class, it still doesn’t have the benchmark 3.5-tonne braked towing capacity that its mainstream rivals boast (apart from the HiLux and Triton). The Amarok V6 can still cope with a braked trailer up to 3.0 tonnes, or 750kg unbraked.
As for human accommodation, the second-row is wide enough for three adults to fit – indeed, it's the widest ute in the class. But knee room can be tight for taller people, and there are no rear-seat air vents, which was an issue on a 40-degree day in the central west of NSW – the cabin cooled down reasonably well, but those up front were a lot icier than the peeps in the rear.
A lack of useful cupholders (there are some on the floor in the middle, which are useless with three on board back there) or a flip-down centre armrest also saw comments from my backseat passengers.
If the weather turns to rain, you can store items in the second row by lifting up the seat bases (which raise in a 60:40 fashion). There are twin map pockets in the back and also large, flocked pockets in all four doors that are big enough for large drink bottles, while up front the storage is adequate but not exceptional for loose items, with a pair of smallish cupholders between the front seats, a little storage area in front of the shifter, and a folder/tablet holder on top of the dashboard.
The presentation of the cabin is now the best of the class: the redesigned dashboard and centre console, coupled with the updated infotainment system that includes Apple CarPlay and the standard Bluetooth phone and audio streaming (as well as built-in satellite navigation and rear-view camera) helps a lot with that. It feels like a high-spec Golf or Passat inside, such is the quality and placement of the controls.
The electrically adjustable front seats won points after a few thousand kilometres over the break, too: after a few four-hour stints neither me nor my front-seat buddy felt fatigued, due to the comfort and support of the seats. They lack memory settings, though, which is a shame.
On the ownership front, the Amarok is covered by VW’s three-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty and roadside assist program, and there’s a six-year/90,000km capped-price servicing program. Maintenance is due every 12 months or 15,000km, with the average cost being quite high at $597 per annum (on average).
It would be easy to be so taken by the engine of the 2017 Volkswagen Amarok Ultimate that you could overlook its safety shortcomings. Indeed, I took a few potential buyers for a drive out in the country, and they were certainly of that opinion. It drives well enough, there’s no doubt about that, and its interior is class leading in many respects.
But we would totally understand if you decided to go for a Ford Ranger Wildtrak instead. You may not be as cossetted in the cabin, nor feel like you’re at the helm of something a bit special – but you likely would be buying a better work ute, and one with all the safety kit you can get in this segment at the moment.